by Lolita Chakrabarti.
Tricycle Theatre 269 Kilburn High Road NW6 7JR To 24 November 2012.
Mon-Sat 8pm Mat Sat 4pm & 24 Oct, 7, 14, 21 Nov 2pm.
Runs 2hr 10min One interval;
TICKETS 020 7328 1000.
Review: Carole Woddis 17 October.
A thrilling inauguration, the true stuff of theatre..
Indhu Rubasingham begins her regime as the Tricycle’s Artistic Director with a fantastic flourish in this unmissable production and statement about racial prejudice.
Intensely moving, it works on the level of theatrical and political metaphor and vivid commentary on many contemporary issues to do with theatre, change and exclusion.
Theatregoers may well have heard of Edmund Kean, regarded in the early 19th century as England’s greatest classical actor. But how many will know anything of the `forgotten’ man, Ira Aldridge, an Afro-American actor brought in to play Othello when Kean collapsed on stage at Covent Garden in 1833?
The choice of the theatre’s firey, French producer Pierre Laporte, aglow with the ideals of the French Revolution, Aldridge proves too explosive a choice for hidebound English colleagues and critics alike.
Kean’s son, Charles, champion of the status quo stiffly following in his father’s established footsteps of performing Shakespeare, is appalled, both by Aldridge’s person and his enlightened views of relating emotion to actions rather than standing like declamatory statues. The debates between old and new acting styles are sharp and as relevant now as ever.
Writer Lolita Chakrabarti and Rubasingham, as director, have done their homework. The small Tricycle theatre stage is beautifully transformed into a 19th-century stage, draped in heavy scarlet with footlights casting ghostly shadows.
At its heart is the towering performance of Adrian Lester. Limbering up for a full scale assault on the part at the National next year, Lester imbues Aldridge with mesmerising presence as the idealistic young actor, flowing with talent before London’s rejection condemns him to a life of constant touring.
Not surprisingly, as excerpts from the shameful critical notices of the time are read out, today’s audience gasped.
Chakrabarti conveys this clever modern `reclamation’ with terrific drive and economy, only losing a little momentum in a feminist parallel to do with a young woman Polish journalist suffering from prejudice of another sort, sexism.
The climax, however, remains a spine-tingling race reversal coup de theatre: Aldridge transformed into a white-haired aged Lear threatening, “I shall do such things.”
Casimir/Henry Forrester: Ferdinand Kingsley.
Halina Wozniak/Betty Lovell/Margaret Aldridge: Rachel Finnegan.
Bernard Warde/Terence: Simon Chandler.
Ira Aldridge: Adrian Lester.
Connie: Natasha Gordon.
Charles Kean: Ryan Kiggell.
Ellen Tree: Charlotte Lucas.
Pierre Laporte: Eugene O’Hare.
Director: Indhu Rubasingham.
Designer: Tom Piper.
Lighting: Oliver Fenwick.
Sound: Paul Arditti.
Composer: Paul Englishby.
Choreographer: Imogen Knight.
Dialect coach: Richard Ryder.
Assistant director: Titas Halder.
British premiere of Red Velvet at the Tricycle Theatre London 11 October 2012.